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Quick Review

Sony DSC-W5 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date 05/10/2005
User Level Novice - Intermediate
Product Uses Home / Travel
digital camera Design Point and Shoot, some manual control
Picture Quality Excellent, 5.1-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes Very good 11x17s
Availability April, 2005
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$349



Note: If you've already read our review of the Sony DSC-W7, you can save yourself some reading here by skipping down to the Test Results section below, as the two cameras have essentially identical controls and user interfaces.

Introduction

Sony DSC-W5 Review Links
Overview
Specifications
Design
Recommended Accessories
Operation
Test Images
Conclusion
Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-W5 was introduced at the same time as its higher resolution brother, the DSC-W7. Like the W1 that started this relatively new line, the Sony W5 has a more rangefinder-style than the original Cyber-shots, with a compact size for easy travel. Most of the functions and the 3x zoom lens and small built-in flash are similar to those on the W1, and the camera also offers the same generous 2.5-inch color LCD monitor. It also has an imager about the same size as the original W1, a 5.1-megapixel CCD for capturing high-resolution images. 32 megabytes of internal memory lets the camera hold a few shots without a memory card (between 12 and 16 shots at full resolution), but is really no substitute for a capacious memory card. The Sony DSC-W5 also offers a Snow preset scene mode (in addition to the six other preset scene modes we saw on the W1), plus three metering modes (as opposed to the W1's two metering options). Small-but-not-tiny, full-featured digital cameras seem to be a particularly popular category with Imaging Resource readers, and the Sony DSC-W5 fits squarely in that "sweet spot" of the market. Very compact (and solidly built), the Sony W5 stops short of being too small for people with larger hands and fingers. Read on for all the details!

 

Sony DSC-W5 Overview

Similar in shape, size, and overall design to the DSC-W1, the new Sony DSC-W5 digital camera continues the more traditional digital camera styling that differentiated the original W1 from the rest of Sony's popular Cyber-shot line. The W5 is basically an updated version of the W1, offering the excellent resolution of a 5.1 megapixel CCD and 32 megabytes of internal memory, while maintaining similar dimensions and features, such as the large 2.5-inch color LCD monitor and useful range of preset exposure modes. Also new to the Sony W5 is an available Center-Weighted metering mode and a Snow preset Scene exposure mode, expanding the camera's exposure capabilities slightly.

Though the LCD monitor is quite large and dominates the rear panel, Sony managed to keep all the functions necessary close at hand and easy to operate. Grab the camera in your right hand and your middle and third finger naturally grab the aggressively raised and angled ridge on the front of the camera. Your thumb finds its home over the six raised bumps nestled between the monitor and menu buttons on the left and the soft but large ridge on the right. Above is the zoom control and below the Five-way navigator; all within easy reach, but the buttons are firm enough that they're not easily activated by accident. It is not impossible, though, so one should be careful, especially when shooting vertically, because your thumb can move and press a button unintentionally.

Pressing the Power button on top of the camera produces a fairly swift reaction. The LCD comes on, the camera chimes, and the lens assembly bursts out of its silo faster than those on most other cameras. When it comes to actually taking a picture, the experience quickly becomes all about that wonderful 2.5-inch LCD display. More like a frame in a gallery than an LCD viewfinder, you'll be able to acquire subjects quickly and frame your shots better than with most other digital cameras. The display, while not transflective, has a special anti-reflective coating that makes it surprisingly usable in very bright lighting, even direct sunlight. (Sony has told us that they generally only use the transflective screen on models without an optical viewfinder, like the T1.) Daylight visibility is often a severe limitation of rear-panel LCD digital camera displays, one that the Sony DSC-W5 avoids almost entirely. Reviewing images is also easier with the larger display, making the camera's 5x Playback zoom that much more meaningful.

A half-press on the shutter begins the focus operation. In low light, a very bright orange LED illuminates the scene when necessary, reaching impressively far. The fast Multi-point AF determines the closest object and focuses quickly, showing brackets around the areas that will be in focus. Everything about the camera feels quality and performs competently. The only possible exception to this is the battery and memory compartment door, which has a small recessed button that you have to press while simultaneously pushing the door open. I found it just a little difficult to push the tiny button and slide the door open, mainly because the way you have to hold the camera to perform this operation is awkward, and provides little traction for your fingers. Included with the camera are two Sony NiMH AA Stamina batteries, delivering 2100 mAh at 1.2V. They'll last about 190 minutes of on-time (with the LCD), capturing up to 380 full-resolution images. (Sony's official ratings, not mine.) With alkaline batteries, that number drops sharply to 35 minutes of battery life and around 70 images, but at least you can use them in a pinch. Sony includes a charger and two batteries. I suggest you buy at least two more, even though the battery life on this camera is pretty good. Read my NiMH battery shootout page to see which batteries currently on the market are the best.

The Sony DSC-W5 is an impressive offering, much like the highly popular W1 model that preceded it. It is handsomely constructed, with a feel of quality. It also has reasonable heft for better handholding of shots. Its big screen and quality lens should give most users a great experience capturing fine pictures they'll be proud to display. Read on for more details.

 

Basic Features

  • 5.1-megapixel CCD.
  • 3x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • Variable digital Smart Zoom (at 3mp res and lower), plus 6x Precision Digital zoom.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 2.5-inch color LCD monitor.
  • Mostly automatic exposure control, but Manual mode is available.
  • Built-in flash with five modes and an intensity adjustment.
  • 32MB internal memory.
  • Sony Memory Stick slot (no card included), compatible with original Memory Stick as well as the Memory Stick Pro format.
  • USB 2.0 computer connection.
  • 2 AA NiMH rechargeable batteries and charger included.
  • Software for Mac and PC.

 

Special Features

  • Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Candle, Snow, Beach, Landscape, and Soft Snap modes.
  • Movie recording mode (with sound).
  • Multi-Burst slow motion mode and Burst continuous shooting mode.
  • Email (VGA) modes.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 1/8 sec in auto mode; 1/1000 to two seconds in twilight mode; and 1/1000 to 30 seconds in manual mode (with automatic Noise Reduction below 1/6 second).
  • Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/10.
  • Creative Picture Effects menu (black and white and sepia).
  • Image Sharpness, Saturation, and Contrast adjustments.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
  • Spot, Center-Weighted, and Multi-Metering modes.
  • Adjustable AF area and three AF modes.
  • Auto ISO setting or 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with six options.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility.

 

User Recommendation
Beginning through intermediate users will be right at home with the W5, and advanced users will enjoy its excellent portability and new manual exposure control option. Although the W5 is technically a high-end point-and-shoot digital camera, it has a lot of creative options and enough image adjustments to handle a wide variety of shooting situations. So, while it's designed to relieve you from complicated exposure decisions, advanced amateurs and business users will appreciate it for its quality, portability, and varied shooting options. It appears well-built and its lens mechanism is impressively fast. Accessory lenses make it more versatile for wide or telephoto use. Overall, an excellent "all around" camera, with impressive speed and resolution.

 

Design

The Sony DSC-W5 is compact, stylish, and ready to go anywhere, with a boxy body style similar to other rangefinder digital cameras on the market. Its silvery metal body is about as wide as a typical business card, and about a quarter inch taller, top to bottom. Measuring just 3.62 x 2.37 x 1.5 inches (91 x 60 x 37 millimeters) and weighing 9.1 ounces (258 grams) with the batteries installed, the Sony W5 fits easily into small pockets or purses. When not in use, the telescoping zoom lens retracts neatly inside the body, and a small plastic leaf shutter automatically closes over the lens to protect it. Outfitted with the accompanying wrist strap, it's quick on the draw and easy to hold.

Despite its small size, the Sony W5 has just enough room for a good grip up front and one small spot for your thumb on the back. The 3x, 7.9-23.7mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm zoom on a 35mm camera) is just left of center (when viewed from the back), with a small and very bright orange lamp on the upper right of it, to help with focusing in low-light conditions. (This lamp also blinks less brightly when the self-timer is in use, flashing faster to let you know when the camera is about to snap the picture.) Four holes for the mic are above that, and the flash is to the right. A slightly larger window for the optical viewfinder is upper left of the lens.

The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) has a small plastic door that opens to reveal a small opening into the battery compartment, which accommodates the AC adapter cord.

The left side has a large, soft plastic door that flips upward and reveals the A/V and USB jacks.

The camera's top panel includes the Shutter button surrounded by the Mode dial. To the left is the small Power button; between the two is a green power LED.

The Sony W5's rear panel holds the remaining camera controls and function buttons, along with a big 2.5-inch color LCD monitor for previewing and playing back images, and the optical viewfinder window. The big LCD is surprisingly readable in bright light, even direct sunlight, though it's not transflective like the display on the Sony T1. Instead, they use an anti-reflective coating on the outermost panel to improve contrast, color accuracy, and viewing angle. The result is impressive.

The LCD display reports a variety of camera and exposure settings, including the aperture and shutter speed settings (a nice bonus for those interested in how the camera will expose the image) and a three-stage battery gauge. The optical viewfinder is located above to the left of the LCD monitor, and has two LED lamps along the left edge of the window, each of which reports the current status of various camera functions. The optical viewfinder has no dioptric adjustment, but eyeglass wearers will be pleased with the high "eyepoint," allowing plenty of room for an eyeglass lens between the camera body and your eye. The camera's Zoom control is in the upper right corner, conveniently located right above six raised bumps for better thumb traction when holding the camera. Lower right of the LCD is a Five-way Arrow pad, with small arrows pointing in four directions (Up, Down, Left, and Right) and a set button in the middle. Each serves multiple functions, navigating onscreen menus scrolling between captured images in playback mode, or activating different camera functions (Flash, Self-Timer, Quick Review, and Macro).

Upper left of the Arrow pad is the LCD Display On / Off button; beneath that is the Menu button; and further down is the Image Resolution / Erase button.

Finally, the W5's flat bottom holds the threaded (metal) tripod screw mount, a speaker for audio playback, and the shared Memory Stick / battery compartment. While most users of the W5 probably won't care, it is impossible to change the batteries while the camera is mounted on a tripod.

 

Camera Operation

Operating the Sony DSC-W5 in any of its automatic modes is very straightforward, with only two additional controls when you enter Manual mode. The Mode dial on top of the camera controls the main operating modes, with options for Auto, Program, Manual, Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Snow, Beach, Landscape, Soft snap, Setup, Movie, and Playback modes. In all image capture modes, the DSC-W5 provides an onscreen LCD menu (activated by the Menu button), with a variety of options for adjusting image quality or adding special effects. The four arrows of the Five-way arrow pad are used to scroll through menu options, while the button in the center of the pad functions as the OK button to confirm selections. In Manual mode, pressing the OK (center) button on the Five-way arrow pad switches the arrows from adjusting flash, macro, and self-timer, and quick review modes to adjusting aperture (left and right) and shutter speeds (up and down). When in Manual mode, information on the LCD to the right of these values tells you by how many EV units it thinks your exposure is off, up to plus or minus 2EV.

The four arrow buttons also serve as external controls when the camera's menus are turned off, or they can be used to scroll through captured images in Playback mode. Starting with the Up arrow and going clockwise, the functions they control include Flash, Macro, Self-Timer, and Quick Review modes. An Image Resolution button calls up the available resolution settings, removing this item from the main menu system, thereby making it much quicker to access when needed. The Zoom control in the top right corner of the back panel adjusts both optical and digital zoom (when the latter is activated through the Setup menu). Overall, I was impressed by Sony's judicious use of space, especially with the large number of external controls provided, the extremely large LCD, and the relatively short learning curve the W5's user interface entails. Along with Sony's other recent cameras, the W5 has one of the cleanest user interfaces I've seen, and will present few challenges to even the most novice user.

Record-Mode Display

In record mode, the LCD monitor displays the subject with a fair amount of overlaid information, indicating approximate battery life remaining (graphically), flash mode, focus mode (macro or normal), autofocus mode setting, any currently-selected exposure compensation setting, ISO setting, the current size/quality setting, and number of images that can be stored on the remaining Memory Stick space at the current size/quality. Half-pressing the Shutter button causes the camera to display the shutter speed and aperture setting it has chosen for the current lighting conditions. Pressing the Display button beside the LCD once adds a small "live" histogram display to the information, pressing it again removes the information overlay, and pressing it a third time turns the LCD off entirely. Pressing it a fourth time restores the default display. In Manual exposure mode, pressing the center button of the 5-way controller switches the four arrow keys to controlling the shutter speed and aperture settings, highlighting those settings in yellow on the LCD display, and placing small arrows above them. Pressing the center button again reverts the arrow keys to their normal functions.

Playback-Mode Display

In playback mode, the default image display shows the most recently captured image, with a modest information overlay present. Pressing the display button once adds the exposure information and a small histogram to the overlay, pressing it again removes the information overlay entirely, and pressing it a third time turns the LCD off altogether. Pressing the wide-angle side of the zoom lever takes you to a display showing images on the Memory Stick in groups of nine small thumbnails, while a second press pulls up a 16-image index. (You can navigate a yellow outline cursor over these thumbnails by using the four arrow keys. Pressing the telephoto side of the zoom lever will bring the currently-selected image up full-screen.) Pressing the telephoto side of the zoom lever when viewing an image full-size on the LCD screen will zoom in on the image, in 17 variable-sized increments up to a maximum magnification of 5x.

 

External Controls


Power Button
: Located left of the Shutter button on the camera's top panel, this button turns the camera on and off.


Mode Dial
: Surrounding the Shutter button, this ribbed dial sets the camera's operating mode, offering Auto, Program, Manual, Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Snow, Beach, Landscape, Soft snap, Movie, and Playback modes (unlike the W1, the Setup menu is not on the dial, but has been moved to the main menu). (See menus and descriptions below.)

Shutter Button (see image above): Surrounded by the Mode dial, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Zoom Control
: Positioned in the top right corner of the rear panel, this two-way rocker button controls optical zoom and, when enabled via the Setup menu, Sony's "Smart Zoom" or Precision Zoom options.

In Playback mode, this button controls the digital enlargement of a captured image, which can go as high as 5x. (Very handy for checking focus or the expressions on people's faces in group shots.) Also in Playback mode, the wide-angle end of the button activates the Index Display mode, which displays either nine or 16 thumbnail images on the screen at one time. (Pressing the "W" end once pulls up the nine-image display, and a second press pulls up the 16-image display.)


Five-Way Arrow Pad
: Located just to the right of center on the rear panel, this control features four discreet arrow buttons, each pointing in a different direction (up, down, left, and right), and a Set or OK button in the middle (Sony describes it by its shape: a dot). In all settings menus, these arrow keys navigate through menu options. Pressing the center of the button confirms selections.

In any record mode, the Up button controls the Flash mode, cycling through Auto, Forced, Slow-Sync, and Suppressed modes. The Right arrow turns the Macro (close-up) mode on and off, and the Left arrow accesses the Quick Review mode, which displays the most recently captured image on the screen. The Down arrow accesses the Self-Timer mode.

In Manual record mode, pressing the center button switches the arrow keys back and forth between controlling their normal functions, and controlling shutter speed (up/down) and aperture (left/right).

In Playback mode, the Right and Left arrows scroll through captured images. When Playback zoom is enabled, all four arrows scroll around within the enlarged view, while pressing the center button returns to the normal, 1x display. In Manual mode, the four arrows can control aperture and shutter speed after the middle button is pressed.


Menu Button
: Upper left of the Five-Way Arrow pad, this button activates the settings menu in any camera mode. The Menu button also turns off the menu display.


Image Resolution / Erase Button
: Lower left of the Five-way Arrow pad, this button displays the available resolutions in any record mode. Choices are 5M (2,592 x 1,944), 3:2 (2,592 x 1,728), 3M (2,048 x 1,536), 1M (1,280 x 960), and VGA (640 x 480). Movie resolutions are 640 x 480, and 160 x 112-pixels.

In Playback mode, this button lets you erase the currently displayed image.


Display / LCD On/Off Button
: Off the upper right corner of the LCD, this button controls the LCD display, cycling through the image with information display, the image with information and live histogram display, the image with limited information display, and no image display at all (in all Record modes). In Playback mode, it cycles through the same series.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Scene Modes: Marked on the Mode dial with a black line, these modes are for capturing images in specific situations. Seven "scenes" are available, including Twilight, Twilight portrait, Candle, Snow, Beach, Landscape, and Soft Snap. Both Twilight modes capture images in low light, although the Twilight Portrait mode automatically enables the Red-Eye Reduction flash mode, combining it with a slower shutter speed to let ambient lighting brighten the background as well. Because the camera employs a slower shutter speed in both Twilight modes, a tripod is highly recommended to prevent blurring from camera movement. Candle mode is just for candlelit scenes, great for birthdays or services. A tripod is once again recommended. Snow and Beach modes optimize the camera for bright situations and prevent color loss from overexposure. Landscape mode sets the focus at infinity and uses a smaller lens aperture to capture sharp details both near and far away. Soft snap mode enhances skin colors while keeping a soft focus for a pleasing glow.


Manual Mode
: This mode provides total control over the exposure, as you're able to select both aperture and shutter speed independently of each other. Apertures range from 2.8 to 10 (depending on the zoom position), and the camera is capable of shutter speeds from 30 seconds to 1/1000.


Program Mode
: This mode is marked on the Mode dial with a black camera icon and a "P." In this mode, the camera selects shutter speed and aperture, while you control all other exposure variables.


Automatic Mode
: Indicated on the Mode dial with a green camera icon, this mode puts the camera in control over the exposure and everything except Macro, Image Size and Quality, Zoom, Flash, and the Self-Timer.


Playback Mode
: Playback mode is noted on the Mode dial with the traditional Playback symbol (a triangle enclosed within a black rectangle outline). In this mode, you can scroll through captured images, delete them, write-protect them, and set them up for printing on PictBridge-compatible printers. You can also copy, resize, and rotate images.


Movie Mode
: A filmstrip icon marks this mode on the Mode dial. In Movie mode, you can record moving images and sound, for as long as the Memory Stick or internal memory has space. Resolution and quality choices are 640 x 480-, or 160 x 112-pixels. While recording, a timer appears in the LCD monitor to let you know how many minutes and / or seconds are remaining on the Memory Stick, and how long you've been recording, so you'll have some idea of how much time you have left. Recording in 640 x 480 mode is only available with a Memory Stick Pro card.

The W5 offers a Multi Burst mode separate from the movie mode and selected in the menu in Auto, Program, Manual, and Scene modes, which captures an extremely rapid 16-frame burst of images, at a selectable rate of 7.5, 15, or 30 frames per second. Multi Burst shots are played back as a slow-motion animation on the camera, but appear as a single large file with 16 sub-images in it when viewed on a computer. (This would be a fun way to catch someone crossing a finish line during a race, or to analyze golf and tennis swings.) A Burst mode is also available, and captures a rapid series of images for as long as the Shutter button is held down. Frame rates and the maximum number of images depends on the image quality and resolution settings, as well as the amount of available memory space.

Record Menu: Available in all three Record modes by pressing the Menu button, the Record menu offers the following options (some options are not available in all modes):

  • EV (Exposure Compensation): Increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. 
  • Focus: Sets focus control to Multi AF or Center AF, or one of five preset focus distances (0.5, 1.0, 3.0, and 7.0 meters, and Infinity).
  • Metering Mode: Chooses between Multi-Metering, Center-Weighted, and Spot modes. Spot metering reads the exposure from the very center of the frame (identified by a cross hair target on the monitor). Spot metering is handy for backlit subjects, or any time the subject and background exhibit very high contrast. Center-Weighted also reads from the center of the frame, but from a larger area than Spot. Multi-Metering mode reads the entire frame to determine exposure.
  • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image, to suit the light source. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash.
  • ISO: (Not available in Scene mode.) Adjusts the camera's light sensitivity. Options are Auto, or 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents.
  • P.Quality: Sets compression between Standard and Fine.

  • Mode: Sets capture mode, Normal (single), Burst, and Multi-burst.
  • Interval: When in Multi-burst mode, sets the capture interval between 1/7.5, 1/15, and 1/30.
  • Flash level: Sets flash power to +1, Normal, or -1.
  • Picture Effects: Offers two creative shooting modes:
    • Black and White: Takes photos in monochrome.
    • Sepia: Records an image in monochrome sepia tone.
  • Saturation: Adjusts the overall color saturation with plus, normal and minus settings.
  • Contrast: Alters the level of contrast in images with plus, normal, and minus settings.
  • Sharpness: Controls the overall image sharpness and softness with plus, normal, and minus settings.

Playback Menu:

  • Folder: Selects the folder for playing back images.
  • Protect: Write-protects the current image (or removes protection), preventing it from being deleted or manipulated in any way except with card formatting.
  • DPOF: Marks the current image for printing on a DPOF device. Also removes the print mark.
  • Print: Prints the current image.
  • Slide: Plays back images in an automatic slide show. You can set the time interval and whether or not the sequence of images repeats.
  • Resize: Resizes the image to 2,592 x 1,944; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,280 x 960; or 640 x 480 pixels. (When an image is resized, the original image is left in place, and a new copy is made at the selected size.)
  • Rotate: Rotates the image 90 degrees clockwise or counterclockwise.
  • Divide: Allows you to trim material from the beginning or end of a recorded movie, or to extract an interesting bit of action from the middle of a longer clip.
  • Trimming: Lets you crop an image and save it as a separate file from the original.

Setup Mode: This mode allows you to change a variety of camera settings, and is accessible through each of the camera menus by scrolling to the Setup icon and pressing the right arrow button.

  • Camera 1:
    • AF Mode: Sets the focus mode to Single, or Monitor.
    • Digital Zoom: Switches between the 3.2x Smart Zoom and Precision zoom, or turns digital enlargement off.
    • Date / Time: Determines whether the date and / or time is overlaid on captured images.
    • Red Eye Reduction: Enables or disables the Red Eye Reduction flash mode, affecting both Auto and Forced flash modes.
    • AF Illuminator: Turns the AF Assist light on or off. If on, the light automatically illuminates in dark shooting conditions.
    • Auto Review: Immediately plays captured image onscreen for two seconds.

  • Camera 2:
    • Enlarged Icon: If set to On, this option temporarily enlarges icons on the LCD display when flash mode, the self-timer, or macro options are set.

  • Internal Memory Tool (no screenshot):
    • Format: Formats the internal memory, erasing all files (even protected ones).
  • Memory Stick Tool:
    • Format: Formats the Memory Stick, erasing all files (even protected ones).
    • Create REC Folder: Creates a new folder for recording images.
    • Change REC Folder: Changes the folder that images are recorded to.
    • Copy: Copies images from the internal memory to a Memory Stick.


  • Setup 1:
    • LCD Backlight: Controls the level of the LCD's backlight, with options of Bright, Normal, and Dark.
    • Beep: Controls the camera's beep sounds, turning them on or off. A Shutter option enables only the shutter beep noise.
    • Language: Selects among Italian, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, or English for the menu language.
    • Initialize: Resets the camera to its default settings.

  • Setup 2:
    • File Number: Chooses between Series (continuing the shot number infinitely) or Reset, which resets the frame number by folder.
    • USB Connect: Sets the USB connection type to PictBridge, PTP, or Normal.
    • Video Out: Sets the timing of the video output signal to either NTSC or PAL.
    • Clock Set: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.

 

In the Box

Included with the Sony DSC-W5 digital camera are the following items:

  • Wrist strap..
  • Two Stamina NiMH AA batteries and charger..
  • USB cable.
  • AV cable.
  • Software CD containing Picture Package (ver.1.6), Pixela ImageMixer VCD2, a tutorial, and USB drivers.
  • Quick-guide manuals and registration information.

 

Recommended Accessories


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...

 

Specifications

See the specifications sheet here.

 

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Test Images

See my test images and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

"Sunlit"
Indoor Flash
Indoor
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 

"Gallery" Photos

For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the W5, we've put together a "photo gallery" of more pictorial shots captured with the W5.

 

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For full details on each of the test images, see the DSC-W5's "pictures" page.

For a look at some more pictorial photos from this camera, check out our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W5 Photo Gallery.

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-W5 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!

  • Color: Good overall color. A tendency toward slightly warm color casts, but accurate hue. Pretty good performance under incandescent lighting, but still a bit warmer than I'd prefer. The DSC-W5 often produced slightly warm color in my testing, but its color was quite good overall, and its hue accuracy was better than that of most digital cameras I test. Skin tones were pretty good, but the blue flowers of the bouquet in both the indoor and outdoor portraits were a bit dark. The camera's Auto white balance setting typically did the best job, though the Incandescent setting handled the Indoor Portrait (no flash) best. All in all, a good performance.

  • Exposure: Generally accurate exposure, but high contrast. The DSC-W5 handled my test lighting quite well, though the camera's high contrast led to lost highlight detail under the high-key lighting of the "Sunlit" Portrait. Its contrast adjustment worked well, but produced odd color-saturation problems in Marti's skin tones, so I wouldn't recommend its use for shots with people in them. Indoors, the camera required higher than average positive exposure compensation, and the standard flash exposure was rather dim. The DSC-W5 had no trouble distinguishing the subtle pastel tones on the Q60 target of the Davebox. Good results overall.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,350 lines of "strong detail." The DSC-W5 performed about average on the "laboratory" resolution test chart for its 5.0-megapixel class. It didn't start showing artifacts in the test patterns until resolutions as low as 1,100 lines per picture height vertically and horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,350 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,700 lines.

  • Image Noise: Good noise levels, but some sacrifice of subtle detail to achieve them. The Sony DSC-W5 did a good job of holding image noise in check as the ISO (light sensitivity) was increased, but it did so by trading away subject detail in areas of subtle contrast. This means that shots at ISO 400 were rather soft-looking (although probably acceptable to many users) when printed at 8x10 inches, but looked fine at sizes of 5x7 and below.

  • Closeups: A small macro area with pretty good detail, though details were a bit soft throughout the frame, and even softer in the corners. Flash had trouble up close. The DSC-W5 captured an average macro area, measuring 2.31 x 1.74 inches (59 x 44 millimeters). Resolution is high, but details were soft throughout the frame, with increased softness in the corners. The W5's flash didn't throttle down enough for the macro area, and overexposed the frame. (Plan on using external lighting for your macro shots.)

  • Night Shots: Very good low-light performance, with pretty good noise and color. The Sony DSC-W5 is an excellent low-light shooter, able to deliver well-exposed shots to the limit of our test (1/16 foot-candle, about 1/16 the brightness of typical city night scenes), at any ISO setting. Its autofocus system worked down to about 1/4 foot-candle with the AF assist light turned off, and in total darkness on nearby objects with the AF assist enabled. Noise levels were quite low, although some subtle subject detail was traded away, particularly at the highest ISO setting. All in all though, a good choice for after-dark available-light photography. (Note though, that its flash tends to underexpose a fair bit, so it's better suited for available-light shooting than for flash photography.)

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A pretty accurate LCD monitor, but a tight optical viewfinder. The DSC-W5's optical viewfinder was a little tight, showing only 85 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 82 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor proved more accurate, showing just slightly more of the subject than appeared in the final image.

  • Optical Distortion: Higher than average barrel distortion at wide angle, though low pincushion. Some softness in the corners, but not extending too far into the images, and fairly low chromatic aberration. I measured approximately 0.9 percent barrel distortion at wide angle, and about 0.08 percent pincushion distortion at telephoto. Chromatic aberration was low at wide-angle lens settings, and lower still at telephoto. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) There is some softening in the corners of the frame at wide angle, less at telephoto, but in neither case does the softness extend very far into the frame.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Times: Great speed, very responsive. The Sony DSC-W5 is faster than average starting up and shutting down, and when it was running, it was faster yet. Full-autofocus shutter lag was a good bit faster than average, at only 0.31 - 0.62 second. (Average these days is a range from 0.8 - 1.0 second.) When the camera was "prefocused" by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the shot itself, shutter lag dropped to an astonishing 0.011 second. Shot to shot cycle time was also very fast, at only 0.95 second for large/fine JPEG images. In continuous mode, the camera could capture up to 9 large/fine images at a time, one every 0.70 second. (1.43 frames/second.) Bottom line, the Sony DSC-W5 should be an excellent camera for keeping up with an active family or capturing shots of sporting events.

  • Battery Life: Excellent battery life. The Sony DSC-W5 uses a two AA batteries for power, and two Sony-branded 2100 mAh NiMH batteries are included with the camera. Unfortunately, the camera uses a "dummy battery" AC adapter (rather than a standard external power connector), so I couldn't conduct my usual direct measurements of power consumption. For what it's worth though, Sony claims that the W5 will run for as much as 190 minutes in capture mode with the LCD display turned on, capturing up to 380 full-resolution images. If true (and I have no reason to disbelieve it), the DSC-W5's battery life is very good, especially for a camera powered by only two AA cells. While the camera comes with two good-quality NiMH AA cells and a charger, I do recommend that you pick up another pair or two of high-capacity NiMH batteries. See my battery shootout page for a current listing of the top batteries, tested under actual load conditions.

  • Print Quality: Good prints at 11x14 inches, sharper at 8x10. High-ISO shots best only at smaller print sizes. 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 our Canon i9900 review for details on that model.) Prints from the Sony DSC-W5 looked good as large as 11x14 inches, although they were sharper-looking at 8x10. The tougher test was with high ISO images, and here the W5 was a little weaker. Shots captured at ISO 200 were marginal at 8x10, looking much better at 5x7, and those shot at ISO 400 were really only usable at sizes of 5x7 and smaller. (Although a lot of that will depend on the subject matter: Subjects with lots of contrasty detail will fare much better than ones with large areas of more subtle contrast, such as people's hair, grass, etc.)

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Very fast, excellent shutter response, excellent shot to shot speed
  • Fast startup/shutdown time
  • Better than average color accuracy
  • Very capable movie mode
  • Very fast multi-burst mode, great for analyzing golf/tennis swings
  • Large 2.5" LCD display
  • LCD is usable in very bright light
  • Excellent low-light shooting capabilities
  • Unusually bright AF-assist light
  • Design is compact but usable, fits the hand well
  • Very good battery life
  • So-so handling of household incandescent lighting
  • Autofocus tended to focus on objects in front of the main subject more often than I'd like/expect
  • Rather contrasty default tone curve
  • Low-contrast option causes strange saturation loss in certain flesh tones
  • Anti-noise processing trades away a fair bit of subtle subject detail to hold the noise in check

 

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As the lower-resolution sibling of the DSC-W7, which we also reviewed recently, the Sony DSC-W5 offers all the same features, but with a 5.1 megapixel CCD (vs 7.0) and at a list price that's $100 lower. As such, I'm a bit more enthusiastic about it than the more expensive W7, feeling that some of its minor shortcomings are easier to accept at the lower price point. Like the W7, the Sony W5 provides more manual exposure control than most compact models permit, yet is easy to use in full-auto mode, and its seven preprogrammed scene modes help with tricky subjects. The large 2.5-inch color LCD monitor is excellent for framing and reviewing shots, and the overall design and layout of the W5 is user-friendly and hassle-free. If you're looking for a good "take anywhere" camera with great versatility and excellent color and tonality, the Sony DSC-W5 deserves a close look, and for $100 less than the W7, it's a relative bargain.


 

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