Sony DSC-W350 Review
|Dimensions:||3.6 x 2.0 x 0.7 in.
(91 x 52 x 17 mm)
|Weight:||4.0 oz (114 g)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350
by David Elrich and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 04/05/2010
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350 digital camera is based around a 14.1-megapixel sensor, coupled to a Carl Zeiss 4x optical zoom lens. The Sony W350's lens offers a 35mm-equivalent range from a generous 26mm wide-angle to a moderate 105mm telephoto.
The Sony W350 can capture 4:3 aspect ratio images at up to 4,320 x 3,240 pixel resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio images at up to 4,320 x 2,432 pixels, or HD movies at 1,280 x 720 pixels at 30 frames per second. In addition, the Sony W350 includes Sony's unique Sweep Panorama function for the first time in a CCD-based Cyber-shot camera, allowing automatic creation of up to a 268-degree panorama in-camera by simply sweeping the lens across the subject.
On the rear panel of the Sony Cyber-shot W350 is a 2.7-inch LCD with a resolution of 230,400 dots. This serves as the only method of framing and reviewing images, given that the Sony W350 doesn't feature an optical viewfinder. The Sony DSC-W350 has a 9-point autofocus system, and does include face detection capable of detecting up to eight faces in a scene and differentiating between children and adults. This ability is used to provide a Smile Shutter function that automatically triggers the shutter when your subject is smiling, as well as both anti-blink and blink-detection features.
Shutter speeds from 2 to 1/1,600 second are possible under automatic control, and sensitivities ranging from ISO 80 to 3,200 equivalents are on offer, with ISO 80 to 800 available under automatic control. 2.0EV of exposure compensation is available, in 1/3 EV steps.
Images and movies can be recorded on Sony's proprietary Memory Stick Duo, PRO Duo (Mark 2 only), PRO Duo High Speed, or PRO-HG Duo cards, as well as the more common Secure Digital and Secure Digital High Capacity cards. 45MB of internal memory is also available, helpful for capturing a few of the most important photos should you forget to bring a flash card along on a day trip. The Sony W350 includes NTSC / PAL standard definition video output connectivity, as well as USB 2.0 High Speed data connectivity. Component HD connectivity is available via optional proprietary cable. Power comes courtesy of a proprietary NP-BN1 Infolithium battery pack rated 240 images.
The Sony W350 digital camera is available from January 2010, priced at around US$200.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350
by David Elrich
Sony unleashed five Cyber-shots at the beginning of the year, ranging from the 12-megapixel S2100 up to the 14.1-megapixel W370 with a 7x zoom and 3-inch LCD screen. The top two "W" series digicams unveiled in Las Vegas, the Sony W350 and W370 are the most intriguing since they're the first CCD-based models offering Sweep Panorama, one of the coolest new features to hit in 2009.
Other notable features on the Sony W350 include a wide-angle 4x zoom (starting at 26mm), a 2.7-inch screen, Optical Image Stabilization, and the ability to capture 720p video clips. And did we say this is a tiny camera? Actually it's Sony's smallest and one of tiniest full-featured digicams available.
Look and feel. This camera is diminutive-to say the least. In fact it's one of the smallest of the hundreds I've handled over the years. Manufacturers used to make a big deal that their cameras were about the size of an Altoid's candy tin. The Sony W350 almost fits inside one. It's thinner, shorter and about the same width-the camera specs are 3.67 x 2.12 x .687 inches (90.7 x 51.5 x 16.7mm). It weighs 4.02 ounces (114g) with the battery and card. Given the compact size, definitely attach the wrist strap, which makes it a lot easier to fish out of your bag or even your pocket.
Available in four colors (silver, black, pink, blue), the Sony W350 is rather plain looking with an embossed Sony logo on the front along with a few specs here and there. Also on the front is the flash, a 2-pinhole mono microphone and the focus assist lamp. The rear is black with silver buttons and decals, so finding the right controls is a snap.
Controls. The power and shutter buttons on top are flush-mounted. Initially this caused some fumbling, but after shooting with the Sony W350 this became less of an issue. A green light appears on the power button when you engage it.
Since this a subcompact digicam there are just a few dedicated controls on the rear; all other adjustments are made using the onscreen menu system and four-way controller with center set button. On the top right is the wide-tele toggle switch. I prefer a zoom control surrounding the shutter button but Sony opted for this system. Again this was not an issue during use. On the right edge is a basic mode slider switch. Here you move between Camera, Sweep Panorama, and Movie settings.
You'll also find Playback, Menu and Delete keys around the Four-way controller. The points of the compass let you access options for Flash, Self-timer, Smile Shutter and the Display in order to increase brightness of the 2.7-inch LCD screen if you need it (which you will).
The flash is a bit small and underpowered. Our manufacturer tests shows it raises the ISO to a soft-looking ISO 640 for both wide and tele settings. It's hardly the potent pop-up flash found in the Canon PowerShot S90, but then again the Sony W350 is a lot smaller and much less expensive. Flash recycle time is 6.5 seconds which is on the long side of average for our tests.
Lens. As big fans of wide-angle lenses, we're happy to see manufacturers embrace this feature in their latest digicam line-ups. The Sony W350 starts out at a nice 26mm and the 4x Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens hits 105mm on the tele end. Would we like more? Sure, but this is a very compact and light camera so there are the inevitable tradeoffs. The lens features six elements in five groups (including three aspheric elements). Apertures range between f/2.7-f/8.0 in iAuto or Program mode. There are no individual aperture adjustments, other than those made by the camera via specific scene modes--so if you're looking for that feature, try another model.
Corners are pretty soft at wide-angle and there's noticeable chromatic aberration, but nothing out of the ordinary for compact wide angle point-and-shoots. At telephoto there was almost no CA and some flare and no significant softening. There's essentially no barrel or pincushion distortion.
As a plus the Sony W350 has Optical Image Stabilization which does a good job eliminating blur at wide and telephoto settings; it's a real benefit with Sweep Panorama. As with any camera you should still try to hold it as steady as possible when pressing the shutter.
The Sony W350 has 9-point autofocus and the Sony W350 had little trouble picking out the nearest subjects most often, a good strategy. The nine points are clustered in the center, but I was also pleased to see Center AF and Spot AF options for when I want to make more accurate selections myself.
Smile Shutter is not one of my favorite features since it automatically snaps a shot when it detects a smiley face (the sensitivity can be adjusted for the amount of teeth showing). Since this camera is targeted to casual photographers, it makes sense for them. It also has Blink Alert that warns you if your subject blinks and Face Detection which can be set to off, Auto, Child- or Adult Priority. Face Detection is a real plus since everyone wants properly exposed and focused snapshots of friends and family. The camera handled this task well. These features are also in play in the self-timer mode where you can take a self-portrait for one or two persons.
Modes. The Sony W350 has a sliding mode switch for Camera, Sweep Panorama, and Movie settings. When in Camera there are options for iAuto, P (Program Auto) and SCN (Scene). Intelligent Auto is the aim-and-forget option and the camera will choose the appropriate scene mode for the subject in front of it. Here the camera scientifically "guesses" the subject in front of it and adjusts to the appropriate scene modes. The camera recognizes Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Twilight using a tripod, Backlight, Backlight Portrait, Landscape, Macro, or Portrait and displays the corresponding icon on the LCD screen when the scene is recognized.
Program Auto offers just a few more options, but don't even think about changing aperture or shutter speed. SCN gives direct access to nine distinct Scene modes: High Sensitivity, Soft Snap, Landscape, Twilight Portrait, Twilight, Food, Pet, Beach, Snow and Underwater (with optional housing). It's a fairly limited number but most people who purchase this camera will rarely move out of iAuto.
From the main screen, you can use the four-way navigator to change the display setting.
What surprised me the most was the apparent lack of a macro option. Turns out the camera doesn't need one, it just focuses close automatically, to about 3/4-inch from a subject. Pretty impressive.
The camera has a built-in ND filter but this cannot be manually adjusted. According to Sony, it's active when the exposure control system determines that light needs to be reduced more than what increases in shutter speed and reductions in ISO can manage. Specifically, as scene brightness increases, the camera will begin to increase shutter speed (letting in less light) and decreasing sensitivity. After a point, the camera will engage the ND filter.
Sweep Panorama is really what places this digicam apart from the hundreds of compact, silver-bodied models available. As noted, you press the shutter and "sweep" the area in front of you. An arrow indicates how long you press the shutter for maximum coverage. We loved this feature when first demonstrated at PMA 2009 and enjoyed using it with the CMOS-based DSC-HX1, -WX1, and -TX1. We had other issues with those cameras, but that's another story. The Sony W350 and the W370 are the first digicams with CCD sensors that perform this task. Below is an example of a photo captured with Sweep Panorama (Auto Levels applied to this shot in Photoshop to improve exposure). The resulting image size is 4,912 x 1,080.
The Sony Cyber-shot W350 also takes High Definition movie clips with a maximum resolution of 1,280 x 720 at 30 frames per second with 9 Mbps at the best compression level. Compare this to a dedicated AVCHD camcorder that records 1,920 x 1,080 at 24 Mbps, remembering that they cost four times the price. Here there are options for 720 Fine, 720 Standard, and VGA. It records mono sound and there's a 3-pinhole speaker on bottom bezel. Don't expect a THX Surround experience from this one.
One thing's that always annoyed me about Sony digicams is their proprietary Multi Connector cable. Misplace it and you're out of luck unless you have a card reader. The supplied hydra-headed cable has USB and A/V connectors. Since this camera takes HD clips, you have to spend another $30 or so for a cable with component video outputs in order to watch HD movies on your HDTV. This has bugged me for years and will probably continue doing so for another decade. Make sure you pick one up at the time of purchase to avoid disappointment if you want to view images or watch videos directly on your HDTV.
Menu. Sony's menu system is straightforward and easy to understand. There are brief descriptions identifying the various options. When you hit the Menu key, icons appear on the left side of the screen. By using the four-way controller you scroll through them, then highlight the setting you want to adjust, moving your selections to the right. Words are legible and the descriptive phrases tell all you need to know. Since this is a point-and-shoot, your menu options aren't encyclopedic. In Program Auto (which I used most often during my tests) you can change resolution, single or burst mode (up to 1.45 fps per Sony), exposure compensation +/- 2 EV, ISO (Auto, 80-3,200), white balance (nine options), Focus type (multi AF, center AF, spot AF), Metering (multi, center, spot). Smile Detection Sensitivity (three options), Face Detection, DRO (off, standard, plus), and Setup. There are fewer options with iAuto and Movie. Rather simple, really, which is comforting for a small camera.
A Shooting Settings menu is selected from the left-tabbed menu as the last item on the list, looking like a small lockbox or suitcase. Here you can access Shooting Settings, Main Settings, the Memory Card Tool, and Clock settings.
Storage and Battery. Sony executives said they would be open to non-Sony invented technologies and the evidence is readily apparent with this camera and others in its 2010 line-up. Not only does the Sony W350 accept Memory Stick Pro Duo cards (and its variants), but the more popular and affordable SD/SDHC cards also fit into the same slot. We're glad to see this. Since the camera takes videos, Sony suggests using Memory Stick PRO Duo with the Mark 2 logo, Memory Stick PRO-HG or Class 4 or higher SD/SDHC cards. Since prices for SDHC cards are so reasonable, 4GB or 8GB is a good starting point. The camera has 45MB of internal memory which is good for a few snapshots but that's about it.
The Sony W350 is supplied with a lithium-ion N-type 3.6V battery that's rated to capture 240 images by the company. A spare would be a good thing if you plan to be shooting all day, as we found out.
Shooting with the Sony W350
Sony Cyber-shots generally perform well, given the right circumstances. This simply means scenes with lots of available light. I've run into issues with digital noise in low light with other digital cameras and was anxious to see how this compact 14.1-megapixel camera would handle a variety of conditions and subjects. A mega-blizzard hit my location (New Jersey) and it was fun playing in the snow, taking snapshots and video clips. I also shot indoors as well (it was cold, you know). Overall I used the camera on multiple occasions over the course of several weeks.
For the most part, I shot in Program Auto at the highest resolution (14.1-megapixels, 4:3 aspect ratio). Video clips were taken at 720p Fine. I enabled Grid lines and used default settings most often (white balance, ISO, metering, focus), but made a few tweaks, such as adjusting the DRO level: I kept this turned off most of the time. I also shot in burst mode when possible, and was pleasantly surprised at how responsive it was at around 1.5 fps at best resolution.
First off, the 2.7-inch, 230K-pixel LCD screen worked very well under most circumstances. It did wipe out in direct sunlight, but boosting the display made it possible to frame the shot. This is far from the worst screen we've worked with, but it doesn't have the detail of those found on better, more expensive cameras.
Startup and shutdown were about two seconds, according to our lab tests. Although not the speediest, we didn't find this to be a detriment during use. Our tests also showed shutter lag at 0.34 second wide and 0.39 second at telephoto, a fast result, especially for an inexpensive pocket camera; this is SLR territory. Prefocused lag at 0.016 seconds is scintillating. Shot-to-shot time, on the other hand, was way too slow, and the camera locks you out of doing anything else -- zoom, focusing, adjustments -- for a good three seconds while it saves the image you just captured. It's vexing.
Although on paper the 4x zoom seems a bit challenged, remember again the size, the price and the wide-angle end. The 26mm is far more appealing and gives a truer sense of objects in the real world, as you can see with this beautiful snow-covered evergreen. Taking shots of the Navesink River I did wish I could've zoomed a tad closer to the far shore but it's too much to ask for given the Sony W350's tiny size and low price.
Overall colors were good shooting outdoors, plus I found no problems with blown highlights during my tests. Results from the lab showed colors weren't oversaturated, but we did see oranges looking almost brown, and yellows looking green. I can attest to this in the real world since the colors of my orange tabby cat were off even in daylight. Indoors, colors tended to be a bit warm and there was loads of noise. Yet for my test of a multi-colored lampshade taken indoors, I was very pleasantly surprised at the lack of noise even at higher ISOs.
Another plus? Sweep Panorama -- but with some caveats. I "swept" during the snowstorm and the function worked beautifully with OIS helping to deliver a smooth panorama. Most cameras have a panorama mode, but with the Sony W350, instead of going through the hassle of stitching images together after the fact, the camera does it all for you. Just place it in Sweep Panorama mode, hold the shutter down while "panning" either horizontally or vertically, and it saves up to a 7,152 x 1,080 pixel file. It records up to a 268-degree view. Landscapes look terrific, and no matter how large the family portrait, you'll get them all in.
However, there was noise galore in these images during the storm, and it wasn't just the flakes. Are we picking up a theme here? This camera works well when it has enough light. Images with flash are good as are photos taken with strong daylight. This is just physics: a tiny sensor coupled with a not-too-fast lens makes for noisy shots if Mr. Sun or Mr. Flash aren't on the scene.
As for HD video quality, this is no AVCHD camcorder, but asking for that in a sub-$200 digicam is absurd. I used a prototype of new Canon Vixia HF S20 ($1,099) for a similar scenes shot with the Sony W350, viewing them on a large screen HDTV. There was no comparison, and the Sony W350 showed lots of blocky noise on the 50-inch display. On a much smaller computer monitor they were okay, and would suffice for YouTube clips. As a plus, the zoom functions during movie recording.
Ergonomically I had no problems with the Cyber-shot DSC-W350. Yes, there was some initial fumbling with the shutter button and zoom toggle, but this quickly faded with use. The zoom moved easily between the wide/tele range and it didn't move jerkily as I pressed the toggle switch. During my tests, the battery didn't last nearly as long as stated so a spare is definitely in order.
Playback. No surprises here. Press the Playback button and you can review your stills and videos in several ways. The classic method is pressing left/right on the control switch to move forward and back. Press the zoom and you can zoom in on your image up to 8x to check details. There's also an image index to review a series of thumbnails or see the images you shot a specific calendar date.
Sony W350 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Quite soft, upper left
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Only slightly soft, upper left
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350's zoom produced quite soft corners compared to the center of the frame. However, blurring is confined to the furthest corners, and doesn't extend far into the image area. At full telephoto, results are much better, with only minimal blurring in the corners.
Wide: Very slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
Tele: Almost no distortion
Geometric Distortion: There is commendably very little barrel distortion at wide-angle (~0.1%), and almost no perceptible distortion at telephoto (~0.05% barrel, or literally two pixels). The DSC-W350's deft processing is obviously at play here, making this slight distortion hardly noticeable at all.
Wide: Moderately bright
Tele: None perceptible
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate, with somewhat bright red pixels visible. Telephoto, however, exhibits almost no perceptible distortion here, save a hint of a magenta-cyan tone right at the edge of the target line.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350's Macro mode captures a soft image overall, though details on the dollar bill are fairly well defined. Blurring in the corners is quite strong and extends far into the frame. Minimum coverage area measures 2.02 x 1.52 inches (51 x 39mm). The camera focuses so closely that the flash is partially blocked by the lens, creating a very uneven exposure with strong highlights in the upper right.
Sony W350 Image Quality
Color: Color is generally good with the Cyber-shot DSC-W350, with some shifts in hue but pretty good overall saturation. Blues and reds are pushed a little, but overall saturation appears natural. In terms of hue, orange is pushed toward yellow, yellow toward green (with many yellows appearing green in our test shots), and cyan toward blue. Darker skin tones show a shift toward orange, while lighter skin tones are a little undersaturated and yellow.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is good at ISO 80 and 100, maintaining good definition at 200 and 400 (though noise suppression is noticeable here). By ISO 800, luminance noise deteriorates fine detail, which progresses throughout the series. Detail at ISO 3,200 is all but gone, with the noise pattern rendering the image more like a watercolor. See the Printed Results for more on how this affects printed images.
Tele: Reasonably bright
Auto WB: Warm, reddish
Incandescent WB: Warm, yellowish
Manual WB: Most accurate
Incandescent: Both the Auto and Incandescent white balance settings produced warm color casts under our incandescent lighting, while the Manual option produced more accurate results. Despite the more true coloring, white values in the Manual option are just a hint cool.
Printed: ISO 80, 100, and 200 printed results look good at 13x19, though yellows can sometimes look a bit too greenish. ISO 400 shots are still usable at 11x14, which is pretty good. ISO 800 shots look good at 8x10, and ISO 1,600 shots are surprisingly good at 5x7. ISO 3,200, which is taken at a lower resolution, does not quite measure up at 4x6; it's just too fuzzy. Overall, not bad for such a small camera. We'd like to see that odd yellow and orange problem gone, though.
Sony W350 Performance
Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is quite good, at 0.34 second at wide angle and 0.39 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.016 secondquite zippy.
Cycle time: Cycle time, however, is on the slow side, capturing a frame every 3.09 seconds in single-shot mode (for large/fine JPEGs). Sony claims burst mode is 1.45 frames per second at full resolution for up to 100 frames, but we didn't test that.
Flash Recycle: The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350's flash recycles in 6.5 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is on the slow side as well.
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350
- Wrist Strap
- Battery Charger BC-CSN
- Battery Pack NP-BN1
- Multi Connector Cable (A/V, USB)
- Software CD-ROM
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Protective case
- Large capacity, high-speed SD/SDHC memory card. 4 to 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity
- Multi Connector Cable for HDTV
Sony W350 Conclusion
So the Sony W350 is a small, tight digital camera that takes 14-megapixel images for about $200. Not bad! Unfortunately, this is no slam dunk and I cannot recommend this camera wholeheartedly without noting its flaws. Yes, it's an unbelievably compact wide-angle point-and-shoot that does a fine job when there's plenty of light. Sweep Panorama is a great feature, too, but again you need the proper light. When the Sony W350 is challenged by low light, noise rears its ugly head and colors can be thrown out of whack. My orange tabby, for example, is not brown. Shot-to-shot speed with the Sony W350 is also slow, making followup shots and zoom level changes a test of patience. There are still tradeoffs for a lower price on a super-small digital camera, so make sure you can live with them if you opt for this $200 digicam. In good light, the Sony W350 will serve admirably and turn out good prints; indoor shots will be a bit more disappointing.
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