Sony DSC-W30 Review

 
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Sony DSC-W30 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Good overall color and hue accuracy, slight oversaturation in bright reds and blues, undersaturation in yellows and yellow-greens.

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 DSC-W30 does oversaturate the strong red and blue tones slightly, but undersaturates bright yellows and yellow-greens. We found its color pleasing on a wide range of typical subjects though. 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. Here, the W30 performed well, with only slight warmth.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. The DSC-W30 showed small color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, but overall had more hue-accurate color than most consumer cameras we test.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm casts with both Auto and Incandescent white balance settings. About 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, while the Incandescent setting resulted in a more yellow color balance that actually looked more pleasing overall. The DSC-W30 required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, about average for this shot. Overall color is a bit dark and yellow here, making the blue flowers very dark and purplish. (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
Good color balance overall, with fairly bright colors. Heightened contrast under bright outdoor conditions.

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

Outdoor shots showed better than average exposure accuracy, though with notably high contrast under harsh sunlight. Strong highlights tended to produce slight underexposures, as in the house shot above, with a limited midtone range, but exposure accuracy was still better than average when compared to many other consumer digital cameras. Overall color looked pretty good, with bright reds and blues that nonetheless didn't look too overdone.

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

Resolution
High resolution, 1,250 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,250 lines per picture height, with extinction at around 1,700. (The camera produced slight color artifacts at lower line frequencies though, visible in the full-sized res target shots.) 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. If you zoom in and follow them from the wider portions, you'll see the lines converge and reappear several times, so the lines you see at 1,600 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

Strong detail to 1,250 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1,250 lines vertical

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

Sharpness & Detail
Slightly soft images, though still fairly good detail definition, especially in bright lighting.

Pretty good definition of high-contrast elements, well-controlled sharpening. 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-W30's images tend to have a slightly soft look when printed large, though high contrast detail like the fine branches against the sky above is well-preserved, with little or no evidence of oversharpening. (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 somewhat, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing limited, blurry detail, though individual strands are visible where a lighted strand passes in front of a darker shadow area. On balance, the W30 shows less detail loss to noise reduction at low ISO settings than average, but more at high ISOs.

ISO & Noise Performance
Moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, but very high noise and strong blurring at the higher settings.

ISO 80 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1,000

The DSC-W30's lower ISO settings produced low to moderate noise, with only slightly blurred detail in the dark areas. (As noted above, better than average in this respect.) However, starting at ISO 400, image noise begins to dominate areas of fine detail. At ISOs 800 and 1,000, noise is so strong and blurring so significant, that resulting images are practically useless for printing. (Even at a print size of 4x6 inches, ISO 1000 shots are soft and muddy-looking.)

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, but high contrast limits both highlight and shadow detail. Limited low-light capabilities, but sensitive enough to capture bright images under typical city street lighting.

+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 DSC-W30 had a hard time with the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, producing very high contrast with washed-out highlights and deep shadows. Shadow detail is limited, with the effects noise suppression very evident in the form of smudged detail in deep shadow areas. The camera required a slightly less than average amount of positive compensation at +0.7 EV, making its metering a bit more accurate than most in this particular test. (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
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
Night Mode
(ISO 80)
(2 sec max)
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1.3 sec
f2.8
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2 sec
f2.8
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2 sec
f2.8
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2 sec
f2.8
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2 sec
f2.8
ISO 80 Click to see W30LL00803.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
ISO 100 Click to see W30LL01003.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
ISO 200 Click to see W30LL02003.JPG
1/2 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
ISO 400 Click to see W30LL04003.JPG
1/4 sec
f2.8
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1/2 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
ISO 800 Click to see W30LL08003.JPG
1/8 sec
f2.8
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1/4 sec
f2.8
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1/2 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
ISO 1000 Click to see W30LL10003.JPG
1/10 sec
f2.8
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1/5 sec
f2.8
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1/2 sec
f2.8
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1/1 sec
f2.8
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1 sec
f2.8
High ISO
Mode
(ISO 1000)
(1/8 sec max)
Click to see W30LLhi10003.JPG
1/10 sec
f2.8
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1/8 sec
f2.8
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1/8 sec
f2.8
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1/8 sec
f2.8
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1/8 sec
f2.8

Low light:
The Sony DSC-W30 had somewhat limited low-light shooting capabilities, with a maximum exposure time of two seconds and that only at its lowest ISO setting of 80. However, the camera is sensitive enough for shooting under average city street-lighting at night, about one foot-candle. (The leftmost column of images in the table above.) Overall color was pretty good with the Auto white balance setting, and the camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to the 1/4 foot-candle light level unassisted (about 1/4 as bright as typical street lighting). With the AF assist lamp enabled, the camera focused accurately down to the lowest light level we test at.

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
A limited flash range, and moderate orange cast with incandescent lighting. Our standard shots required the "+" flash exposure setting.

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

Flash coverage was rather uneven at wide angle, and still uneven at telephoto. In the Indoor test, the DSC-W30's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring use of the "+" flash setting to get reasonably bright results. Even here, the exposure is a little dim, with a noticeable orange cast. The Slow-Sync flash mode also needed the "+" setting, though it resulted in more even lighting (and a stronger orange cast).

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see W30FL08.JPG
1/50 sec
f5.2
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f5.2
ISO 100
Click to see W30FL10.JPG
1/50 sec
f5.2
ISO 100
Click to see W30FL11.JPG
1/50 sec
f5.2
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f5.2
ISO 100
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1/50 sec
f5.2
ISO 100
Click to see W30FL14.JPG
1/50 sec
f5.2
ISO 100

Even at eight feet, our closest test range, the flash did not quite illuminate the DaveBox target adequately.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, great color, crisp prints at 8x10 inches, usable ones at 11x14. ISO 400 images are soft and noisy at 8x10 inches, acceptable at 5x7, great at 4x6. Higher ISOs are only (barely) suitable for 4x6 inch snapshot prints.

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 iP5000 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

The Sony W30 produced crisp prints at 8x10 inches, and somewhat softer but still acceptable ones at 11x14. As always though, the real test of print size came at the higher ISO settings. Here, the W30's ISO 400 images were soft and noisy when printed at 8x10 inches, acceptable at 5x7 and great at 4x6. ISO 200 shots were noisy but acceptable at 8x10. The highest ISO settings of 800 and 1000 were so noisy though, that we question their inclusion on the camera at all. Even in small 4x6 inch snapshot-sized prints, ISO 800 and 1000 shots were soft and muddy-looking.

Color-wise, the Sony W30 did pretty well, with bright but natural-looking color and good-looking skin tones.

Bottom line, low-ISO shots from the DSC-W30 look very good and hold together well at large print sizes, but its high-ISO images leave much to be desired.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W30 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-W30 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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