Sony DSC-W220 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220
Resolution: 12.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3"
Lens: 4.00x zoom
(30-120mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 100-3200
Shutter: 1-1/1600
Max Aperture: 2.8
Dimensions: 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in.
(95 x 57 x 22 mm)
Weight: 4.2 oz (118 g)
MSRP: $180
Availability: 03/2009
Manufacturer: Sony
12.10
Megapixels
4.00x zoom
1/2.3"
size sensor
image of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220
Front side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220 digital camera Back side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220 digital camera Top side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220 digital camera Left side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220 digital camera Right side of Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220 digital camera

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220
Overview

by Mike Tomkins
and Dave Etchells
Review Date: 04/10/09

The new entry-level to Sony's Cyber-shot W series, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220 is based around a 1/2.3" SuperHAD CCD image sensor with 12.1 megapixel resolution coupled to a Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar branded 4x optical zoom lens. Equivalent focal lengths range from 30 to 120mm, while the maximum aperture varies from f/2.8 to f/5.8 across the zoom range. Macro focusing is possible down to a minimum of four centimeters. The W220 forgoes any optical viewfinder in favor of a 2.7" LCD display with 230,000 dot resolution.

The Sony Cybershot W220 offers ISO sensitivity ranging from 100 to 3,200 equivalent, and includes both true optical image stabilization and Digital Image Stabilization, which functions by raising the camera's sensitivity (and along with it, the noise levels) so as to achieve a higher shutter speed and reduce motion blurring. The Sony W220 also includes face detection capable of differentiating between children and adults, and takes into account the locations of detected faces when calculating autoexposure and autofocus variables. The Sony Cyber-shot W220 features in-camera retouching capabilities, with soft focus, fish eye effect, cross filter, partial color, retro, radiation, red-eye correction, trimming, unsharp masking and smile effects being on offer.

Other features of the Sony DSC-W220 include seven scene modes plus an Intelligent Scene Recognition mode which automatically chooses between five of these modes, plus MPEG Movie VX video, a Dynamic Range Optimizer function, and both USB and video output connections.

The W220 is available in a range of colors including silver, pink, blue and black - the pink and blue models featuring a new finish that differs from that on previous models. The Sony W220's suggested list price is US$179.99, and began shipping in late March, 2009.

 

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220
User Report

by Dave Etchells

Announced in early January, 2009, the Sony W220 becomes the entry-level model in Sony's mainstream W-series digital camera lineup. It shares its 12-megapixel resolution with the other W-series models announced at the same time (the W230 and W290); these models differentiate themselves primarily by their LCD size and zoom ratio, secondarily by various internal features.

Look and feel. These days, the Sony W220 would be considered a mid-sized digital camera, but that standard has shrunk considerably over the years: The Sony W220 will slide easily into most pockets, and weighs in at less than 5 ounces.

Following the current trend toward more colorful cameras, the Sony W220 is available in bright pink and blue as well as the more traditional silver and black. In typical Sony styling, the color covers the front and back of the camera, with a chrome accent running up both sides and across the top. Overall, it's an attractive design that doesn't call undue attention to itself.

Slim, sleek camera designs can sometimes leave you wishing for a bit more for your fingers to hang onto, and this was my experience with the Sony W220. I never felt I was in danger of dropping the camera, but the relatively large LCD screen on its back leaves little room for your thumb to grip the case – and the smooth front surface provides relatively little for your fingers to grab onto as well. When holding it one-handed, your thumb completely obscures the right-side controls, meaning that control adjustments are a two-handed affair. One piece of good news, though: Your thumb will most naturally lie over the mode dial, which actuates by turning rather than pressing – so there's no problem with controls being activated by accident. I don't want to belabor the point, as many small cameras share similar issues, it's just that the very smooth front of the case left me feeling a little uneasy about the security of my grip: Take my advice and use the provided wrist strap.

Controls. You power up the Sony W220 by pressing the slightly recessed on/off button on the top panel. The slight recess is a good design touch, as the camera is less likely to be turned on accidentally. When turned on via the on/off button, the lens telescopes out, and the camera is ready to shoot in just over two seconds. You can also turn the camera on simply by pressing the playback button on the rear panel (just above and to the left of the 4-way controller), in which case the camera comes up in playback mode. A nice touch is that the camera is essentially always ready to snap a picture: If it's in playback mode, just half-press the shutter button, and the camera will immediately switch to record mode.

Other than the power switch and shutter button, all the Sony W220's controls are on the camera's back panel. The zoom toggle at upper right moves the lens pretty quickly: It only takes 3-4 seconds to zoom the lens from one extreme to the other. Like the lenses on many digital cameras, the W220's isn't a smooth zoom; it moves in steps, no matter how briefly you press the toggle control. The steps are reasonably small (I counted a total of 9 different zoom settings), but I always prefer a truly continuous zoom.

Control space on the back panel is a little cramped, but the layout of the buttons and their slightly raised profiles made it easy to select what I wanted to do without miscues. The four-way controller is a little small, but again, I had no trouble selecting the option I wanted. Any issues I had with the camera's operation had more to do with its menu system (see below) than its physical controls.

The Sony W220's 2.7-inch LCD screen is bright and a little contrasty, and has an enviable viewing angle side-to-side, but a much more restricted one top to bottom: Holding the camera over my head, I could easily see the viewfinder image if I held the camera vertically (portrait orientation), but when I rotated the camera to its normal horizontal position, the image vanished almost entirely. The screen works well in bright light, but will wash out in direct sunlight. It's also a fingerprint magnet, but that's common to most all camera LCD panels.

The Sony W220's audio/video/computer connector is located on the camera's bottom; a wide, narrow connector that receives a rather large plug. All output connections are provided on one multi-tentacled cable, with video, stereo audio and USB connections all available together. An optional HD-compatible cable (sold separately) lets you view still images on an HDTV, but movies can only be viewed via the normal NTSC-compatible cable that's included with the camera.

The Sony W220's flash is controlled via the four-way control on the camera's rear panel, although some scene modes either disable the flash or make it fire all the time. Sony rates its range at 12.8 feet with the lens at its widest-angle setting, or 6.3 feet at telephoto. As is usually the case, the camera has to boost its ISO setting to achieve these ranges, so the resulting images can be a little soft. Not more so than most competing models, though, at least in our experience.

Lens. The Sony W220's lens covers a focal length range of 30-120mm equivalents, going a bit wider than the standard 35mm wide-angle available on many cameras. This wider coverage can come in handy when shooting indoors or in cramped quarters. The W220's lens is also distinguished by its wider maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the wide angle end of its zoom range. This lets in more light than lenses on many competing cameras that typically start out at f/3.2-3.5. This brightness advantage disappears at the telephoto end, though, where the maximum aperture is a pretty typical f/5.8.

Optical image stabilization is becoming a more and more popular feature on cameras these days, and the Sony W220 follows suit, sporting Sony's excellent SteadyShot technology. A menu setting gives you options of off, shooting (active whenever the shutter button is half-pressed), or always-on. The always-on option gives you a steady viewfinder image all the time, but at the cost of shorter battery life: Most users should choose the shooting option. In movie mode, the stabilization options reduce to always-on (continuous) or off, and you'll probably want to leave it on all the time, for the sake of capturing steadier-looking movies.

Modes. The Sony W220's mode dial offers a panoply of options, no less than 10 different settings. What's interesting is that the camera offers two "simple" modes, adding an "Easy" option to the normal Green Zone setting. In Easy mode, the menu text becomes larger, and only two menu options are offered: Flash (Auto/Off) and Image Size (Large/Small). Most users will probably find the normal Green Zone (Auto) setting more useful, as it does provide a number of useful settings, including Face Detection, exposure compensation, single/continuous recording mode, red-eye reduction for flash exposures, and Sony's iSCN Automatic scene recognition.

Like most digital cameras, the Sony W220 offers a variety of different scene options right on its mode dial, including night portrait, landscape, group portrait, high ISO, and Smile Shutter (more on that in a moment). In its green-zone Auto mode, there's also an option in the shooting menu for Sony's iSCN automatic scene recognition. This option tells the camera to analyze the scene itself, and decide whether to set itself up for Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Twilight with a tripod, backlight, or backlight portrait shooting conditions. I'm more than a little puzzled, though, that Sony doesn't enable this by default in Auto mode, but instead leaves it as an option the user must select: The users who'd most benefit from this are the ones least likely to find and select it on the shooting menu. Perhaps that's what Easy mode is for, but it still seems a little strange to me to make novice users hunt for this option on the menu system. One nice touch, though: When the camera recognizes either twilight or backlight scene types, the iSCN+ option makes it shoot two images each time the shutter button is pressed; one with the auto scene settings selected, the other with the camera operating at its defaults.

The Smile Shutter option is a cute idea, but one that I personally wonder about the utility of. In this mode, when you press the shutter, the camera begins watching for a face in the image to smile. When it detects the smile, the camera will trigger the shutter. Like I said; cute, but this seems like an easy enough thing for the human holding the camera to attend to.

Record Screens. A useful range of information.

Record/Playback screens. The Sony W220's record and playback screens are sharp and clear, thanks to its high-quality LCD display. In both record and playback mode, the available information overlays give you as much or as little information as you need on camera operation, and include a histogram display, the latter somewhat unusual to find in low- to mid-range consumer cameras. Overall, the record and playback screens met my needs and expectations well. Some of the icons corresponding to various camera features were a little small, though, might be hard for some with fading eyesight to make out.

Main Menu. Only some setup items are available on the main menu.

Menu System. I have to say that Sony's menu system is one of the things I personally like least about their cameras. Several years back, their menus were a model of simplicity and navigational ease, but they abandoned that design in favor of the current one, which is attractive and easy to read, but which is more awkward to navigate (in my humble opinion, at least). That's just my opinion; I'm sure others will appreciate the large text and icons.

Home Menu. I found the separate Home menu a little awkward.

On the W220, the menu system is made even more awkward by the presence of a second menu, accessed via the Home button, just to the right of the Menu button that accesses the main menu system. I may just be getting old and set in my ways, but I found the dual menu system confusing – and I think a lot of users might also. I've seen dual-menu systems that work well (the Canon Function Menu/Main Menu system comes to mind), but for whatever reason the menu system on the Sony W220 left me guessing about where I needed to go a lot of the time.

That said, though, the Sony W220's menus offer a good range of control over the camera's functions, and the options offered vary to match the capabilities of whatever mode you're shooting in. This could be a bit confusing if you tend to jump around between modes a lot, but the lack of extraneous features in various modes will certainly be welcomed by novice users.

Storage and battery. The Sony W220 stores its images on MemoryStick PRO Duo memory cards, with a current maximum capacity of 16GB per card. That'd be more than sufficient for most needs with this camera, and indeed a 2GB card should be more than adequate unless you plan to shoot a lot of video with the camera. The camera also comes with 15MB of internal memory, which can only hold about three shots at full resolution.

The Sony W220's battery is a 960mAh, 3.6 volt lithium-ion design, model number NP-BG1. The battery and memory card are both hidden behind a bottom-panel hatch that latches when closed and slid to its locking position. Sony says it's good for 370 shots per charge, based on the CIPA standard for battery life. We certainly have no quibble with that rating; the sample we worked with seemed able to run a long while without significantly draining the battery's capacity.

Shooting. I've already voiced my complaints about the Sony W220's menu system, so I won't belabor the point here. Shooting with the camera proved to be more pleasant than I'd have expected, and I was particularly impressed with how well its Easy mode handled a wide range of conditions. Standard outdoor and indoor shots both turned out quite well, with no intervention whatsoever on my part.

Shooting indoors with the Sony W220 was for the most part a pleasant surprise. Its automatic white balance leaves just a bit more yellow cast in images shot under incandescent lighting than I'd personally prefer, but prints made from Easy-mode images looked just fine. When the flash fired, it exposed properly, neither too bright nor too dim, at least if the subject was within range. The SteadyShot image stabilization worked quite well, making it much easier to get sharp images without flash than when shooting with the stabilization turned off. I still had to hold the camera carefully, as the shutter speed was typically only 1/13 second, but if I was careful, the majority of my non-flash shots turned out sharp.

As it turns out, though, "sharp" is a somewhat relative term when talking about indoor shots with the Sony W220: To get to even the 1/13 second shutter speed under normal room lighting, it has to boost its ISO to 400, at which point a lot of subtle detail is lost to noise-reduction processing. The resulting images make great-looking 4x6 inch prints, but 8x10 enlargements look somewhat soft. They'd be fine for display on a wall, but don't hold up to close inspection too well. I found 5x7 inches to be about the limit for close viewing of indoor, non-flash photos.

Outdoors, the Sony W220 acquitted itself quite well also, delivering bright but natural-looking color and plenty of detail. Not as much as you'd perhaps expect from a 12-megapixel camera, but Sony isn't alone in that regard: The microscopic pixels of most consumer 12-megapixel cameras have largely outstripped the capability of the accompanying lenses, and noise reduction (even at base ISOs) further muddies detail. On the whole, the Sony W220 does better than some and no worse than most.

Click to view movie. MPEG player required.

Movies. Click on the screenshot above to see a movie of Charlotte the Wonder Dog catching her Frisbee. (10.9MB MPEG file.)

One thing that I did find slightly annoying was the Sony W220's stepwise zoom operation. As mentioned above, there are actually only 9 separate focal length settings available, so I sometimes had to move forward or back to achieve the framing I wanted. Not a show-stopper by any means, but a minor annoyance compared to some other cameras.

Shooting close-ups with the W220 was a pleasant surprise: While the camera does have a specific macro setting, its main impact is merely to speed focusing for close-up subjects. Regardless of the setting of the macro option, the W220 will focus on near or distant subjects equally well. Sony doesn't state the minimum shooting distance for the W220, but we measured it at about 1.4 inches (36mm) with the lens set to its wide angle position, at which point you can capture a very small area only 1.5 x 2 inches.

The Sony W220 did well with movie recording as well. I only shot in its highest-quality movie mode (which produces 640x480 pixel movies, running at 30 frames/second), but found the movies to be clean and smooth-running, and audio quality was excellent. Unfortunately, optical zoom is not supported while recording movies, and neither is digital zoom.

Bottom line, while I wasn't wild about the W220's menu system, it was a very functional little camera, and generally a pleasure to shoot with. Its "Easy" mode handled a wide range of lighting conditions unusually well, making this a good camera for novices or non-technical users: All they need to be able to do is set the Mode Dial to EASY and hit the shutter button.

 

Sony W220 Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Quite soft upper left corner
Tele: Sharper at center
Tele: Very soft upper left corner

Sharpness: Both the wide-angle and telephoto ends of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220's zoom range produced soft corners when compared to the center of the frame. At wide-angle, all four corners were quite soft, though at telephoto, blurring was strongest in the top corners. The lens is pretty sharp at the center, though, and the softness doesn't extend very far into the frame, so the overall results are pretty good. (Keep in mind, too, that the crops above are 1:1 from a 12-megapixel camera; they'd cover only a tiny area in any reasonable-sized print.)


Wide: Moderate barrel distortion, slightly higher than average
Tele: Noticeable pincushion, somewhat higher than average

Geometric Distortion: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W220 shows noticeable barrel distortion at wide-angle, though the actual measurement (0.9%) is only a little higher than average. Pincushion at telephoto is also somewhat higher than average at 0.5%. (Most cameras we test come out in the range of 0.2 - 0.3% pincushion at the telephoto ends of their ranges.)


Wide: High, bright
Tele: High, but much less color

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is quite high and bright, with strong magenta and cyan coloration. At telephoto, the effect is less bright, but still visible. The chromatic aberration at wide angle is pronounced enough to be pretty visible in 8x10 inch prints, much less so at telephoto.


Standard Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Sony W220's macro mode is quite capable, capturing a very small minimum area of only 1.5 x 2.0 inches (38 x 51mm). While the camera does have a dedicated Macro mode, it will focus close even when set to Auto. (The macro mode just speeds focusing for close-up shots.) Like many cameras, the corners of the frame get rather soft when shooting this close, but performance is good overall. Note that you'll need to use external lighting for your closest macro shots, as the flash can't throttle down enough for shots this close.


 

Sony W220 Image Quality


Color: Bright greens are a little muted, hues from blue through purple to red are emphasized. There are also some hue shifts that move oranges more toward yellow, and cyans toward blue. (This last is almost universal in digital cameras, we think in an effort to produce rich-looking sky colors.) Overall color accuracy isn't bad, though, somewhere close to average among competing digicams. Color is somewhat muted in some respects, especially yellows, some of which have a slight green tint. Blues are pumped more than reds, but color looks mostly accurate, rather than the usual tendency toward oversaturation that most companies employ to appeal to consumers. Hue is also a little off for colors like yellow and cyan. Dark skin tones are a little more saturated, but lighter tones are pretty spot on.

Looking at our still life test shot gives a quick idea of the overall look of a camera's color. The Sony W220 rendered this shot with a slight reddish cast, but it's within the range of what most people could probably consider acceptable. The colors generally look bright and natural, without seeming overdone. (The bright blue fabric swatch is a little more dramatic looking than it is in real life, however.)




100
200
400
800
1,600 3,200

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is fair at ISO 100, but as you increase the ISO (light sensitivity setting), fine detail begins to be compromised as early as ISO 200. Details are quite blurry at ISO 400, and things progressively deteriorate from there. (Keep in mind, though, that we're zoomed way in on the images here; the W220 is a 12-megapixel sensor. So what looks soft here may look fine when printed at all but the largest sizes. That said, the 3,200 setting is pretty useless, even for 4x6 inch prints.)


Wide: Inconclusive
Tele: Dim
Flash: The Sony W220's flash worked well in all our tests, providing good coverage and accurate exposure. It easily met the manufacturer's specified ranges of 12.8 feet at wide angle and 6.3 feet at telephoto, but the auto ISO setting ran the ISO all the way to to 640 and 500, respectively, which makes for somewhat soft, blurry photos. In our indoor test shots (see immediately below), the camera allowed for the room lighting, and so only boosted the ISO to 400, helping detail somewhat.

Overall, flash shots aren't the W220's strong suit; expect some loss of subtle detail. On the whole, though, its flash photos looked surprisingly good when printed at 8x10 inches and below. Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) doesn't work well at wide angle when the reported distance goes beyond 16 feet, because that takes the camera out of the main lab, so the wide-angle result is inconclusive. The telephoto test came out a little dim, and it's unusual that the camera didn't raise the ISO further. Given the ISO 100 results, the Sony W220's flash will be sufficient in most situations, though, just keep your subjects within about 14 feet, and don't use the flash at full telephoto.


Auto WB:
A little warm
Incandescent WB:
Also warm
Auto Exposure, No Flash:
Slightly dark, but not bad
Auto Everything:
Good exposure, good color

Incandescent: Both Auto and Incandescent white balance settings left just a little too much warm cast for our tastes in this test, shot under household incandescent lighting. That said, results were better than many cameras manage with this difficult light source, and prints actually looked surprisingly good.

One of the W220's strong suits seems to be its ability to handle a wide range of lighting conditions in its fully automatic mode. The shots below right were snapped with the camera in its "Green Zone" Auto mode, and turned out quite well. When we switched to Easy mode (sorry, they were hand-held shots, we didn't save them), the dark flash-off exposure brightened somewhat.


Printed: ISO 100 Printed results look good at at 11x14 inches, with good color and detail, while 13x19 inch prints were a little soft. Some luminance noise is visible even at ISO 100, but the noise doesn't really take off until ISO 400. ISO 400 shots can be printed as large as 8x10 inches, but are a little blotchy-looking at that size, really only suitable for wall display. At ISO 800, 8x10 inch prints surprisingly look a little cleaner than ISO 400 ones, but the trade-off is that a good bit more subtle detail is lost to the anti-noise processing. Detail in ISO 800 shots is more acceptable at 5x7 inch print sizes. ISO 1,600 shots make good-looking 4x6 inch prints, but not larger ones, and images shot at ISO 3,200 setting really aren't usable at any size, at least not according to our standards.

Overall, decent performance from a pocket camera at this price point.


 

Sony W220 Performance


Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is very good at wide-angle and telephoto, at 0.37 second for both. Prefocus shutter lag is only 0.009 second (!), extremely fast.


Cycle time: Cycle time is also relatively fast, capturing a frame every 1.69 seconds in single-shot mode. Sony claims a continuous mode of 1.7 frames per second for up to 100 shots, but we didn't test that.


Flash Recycle: The Sony W220's flash recycles in 5.0 seconds after a full-power discharge, a little slow overall, but about average for a camera of the W220's size.


 

Sony W220 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • "Easy" mode does a good job of figuring out widely varying lighting conditions (great for complete beginners)
  • Shooting-priority camera: Touching the shutter button automatically takes you out of playback mode, so no time lost fumbling for a mode switch
  • Moderately wide-angle 4x zoom
  • SteadyShot image stabilization works well, helps deliver sharp pictures under indoor lighting
  • Auto white balance handles incandescent lighting better than many competitors
  • Images print quite well (much better than they look on-screen, while "pixel-peeping" at 1:1)
  • Very good macro capability
  • Sony's DRO exposure-equalization feature works well
  • HD output for stills (cable optional)
  • Good movies, with good audio
  • Compact, easily pocketable
  • Wide LCD viewing angle from the sides
  • Fast autofocus
  • Extremely fast prefocus shutter lag
  • Good battery life
  • The camera struggles to overcome the effects of the microscopic pixels on its sensor - But is no worse than many other similar models on the market, and prints look fine
  • Auto white balance still leaves a bit more color in images shot under incandescent lighting than we'd prefer
  • Lens has excessive chromatic aberration at wide angle end, soft corners at both wide and telephoto
  • Higher to slightly higher than average geometric distortion (barrel and pincushion distortion)
  • Zoom moves in steps, more steps or continuous zoom would be nice
  • Dual menu system is needlessly confusing
  • Limited LCD viewing angle top to bottom (an issue for over-the-head shots)
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Grip feels a little uncertain, needs something to give your fingers more traction
  • No HD movie option (But frankly, I think those aren't terribly useful for most users)

 

Conclusion. The Sony W220 was a camera that I warmed to the more I used it. I initially was a bit put off by its menu structure, and its very smooth skin made me fear losing my grip on it at an inconvenient moment. Viewed 1:1 on-screen, its images look a little soft, even at its lowest ISO. As I shot with it and made prints from its images, though, I came to like it more and more. As is the case with many high-megapixel consumer cameras these days, the quality of its images when viewed 1:1 on-screen has little to do with how they look when printed. On that score, the Sony W220 did pretty well, and my picture-taking experience with it was quite good. I don't think it's an out-of-the-park home run, but after living with it for a few days, it clearly deserves a Dave's Pick: Most consumer-level users will be happy with the results produced by it.

 

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